Elma Tataragić is a screenwriter, professor and festival programmer. She graduated in Dramaturgy from the Sarajevo Academy of Performing Arts and obtained her M.A. and PhD in Film and Literature. She has been with the Sarajevo Film Festival since its beginnings and now works there as programmer for the Competition (feature and short films) program as well as the “In Focus” and “BH Film” sections. She co-wrote the short film “First Death Experience” (2001) and wrote and produced the short film “North Went Mad” (2003), both directed by Aida Begić. In 2008, she co-wrote Aida Begić’s feature “Snow” that premiered in Cannes’ Semaine de la critique strand and won the Grand Prix. The film has subsequently been shown at over eighty film festivals and has won over thirty international awards. Elma is leading the BH Filmmakers Association, teaching Scriptwriting and other courses related to Scriptwriting specifically tailored for M.A. students and is, among her many activities, also working as a script doctor for Eurimages as well as an advisor to the European Film Academy, of which she is also member. In 2016, she completed her short film “I Remember,” which successfully toured the international festival circuit. The feature film “When the Day Had No Name,” directed by Teona Mitevska which she co-wrote, premiered in the Panorama Special program at the 2017 Berlinale. Moreover, this year, two films that she wrote, “Stitches” by Serbian director Miroslav Terzić, and “God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya” by Teona Mitevska, premiered to critical acclaim at the Berlinale and are screening at the Sarajevo Film Festival. She has also recently published a book on Screenwriting.
Tara Karajica caught up with her at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival.
Can you describe in your own words the “Competition program” for both the short and feature film sections?
Elma Tataragić: This year, the program is very diverse. In the feature film section, there is a mixture of films by debut filmmakers and more experienced filmmakers such as Catalin Mitulescu or Stefan Komandarev. The program is very dynamic with different approaches to life and similar themes treated differently. What is important is that the program brings out the plurality of different point of views. In the shorts section, the fourteen films competing for the Heart of Sarajevo Award can fall into four categories. They are either films about characters searching for their identity or the meaning of life, or films which openly discuss contemporary problems such as immigration and war, films that open the problems of being different or films that are experimenting with the film language.
When you select films, can you exclude your personal taste? If so, to what extent?
E.T.: I think I can to a certain extent, but I guess it’s not possible to exclude it absolutely. We’re not robots and machines. And, curatorship is also considered, in a way, as an author’s work as well. So we don’t have to exclude it. There are, of course, some inclinations which you can feel with every programmer and selector, but sometimes, some things are quite clear; sometimes, I know there is a topic I like, but when I start watching the film it just doesn’t work. It’s not so much about the taste, it’s more about the film, about the craft and about the approach. I like to be surprised; I like to be challenged; I like my taste to be challenged.
How would you define the Sarajevo Film Festival and its artistic direction? How has it evolved over time?
E.T.: We are very much defined by the region and that is our profile. It took us a few years to find where we’re going. In the first few years, it was a different festival. Only in 1998 did we introduce the regional section, which was a very small section at the time, presenting a couple of shorts and a couple of feature films in a tiny cinema and at not very attractive hours. It was only in 2003 when we really realized what we wanted to do with the festival and it was basically a turning point for us and for the festival. It was a year when, on the one hand, we decided to be committed to the promotion of regional cinema not only in terms of promoting the films – which we began that year in the National Theater, with the red carpet for regional stars and regional films – but also in terms of the preparation and pre-production of the films, which we started with our CineLink Co-production Market, that is called today CineLink Industry Days. Both of these sections have very much evolved and have also created other sections which are satellite sections like for example the “In Focus” program which presents the best of regional cinema Out of Competition at 4pm everyday and has an amazing audience. Also, in CineLink, we have TV Drama now; we have different platforms where we discuss new things that are happening in the audiovisual industry in general. And, all these sections together are basically the spinal cord of the festival as they themselves attract over a thousand film professionals coming either to promote films, select films, or start working on their new projects. So, in that sense, we are very much profiled towards the region.
How do other festivals influence your selection and, consequently, the concept of the festival?
E.T.: They do, of course. But, it’s not only the selection, it’s the entire concept. We’re very much inspired by other film festivals and we have always been. We have developed our festival by watching others do their work and trying to see what would fit Sarajevo and what would not. It’s impossible not to be of a film festival and look at new things and at how someone else is handling things and try to copy-paste that, and, of course, change that. The idea of CineLink came out of IFFR and its CineMart. A lot of things that we are doing through the Competition program, I’ve seen them being done in Berlin, Cannes, Locarno… The Sarajevo Talents program is directly linked to the Berlinale Talents program. We’re still learning from the bigger ones, but the smaller ones as well and it’s not only in terms of selection, but also in terms of our profile; in general terms – where we’re leading the film festival to.
How difficult is it to make a coherent festival with so many sections and sidebar events?
E.T.: It’s very difficult to keep it all together. You can always be on this edge of falling apart where you say: “Let’s push this many films and let’s present this many films.” But, for the past five years, we have kept the same number of films. And, in terms of venues, we’re trying to profile things so that the audience really knows what they get when they get to the venue. That’s why two years ago, we introduced two new venues; one of them is the House of Shorts, and the other one is the House of Youth where we moved the children and teen programs. So, in that sense, we are trying to navigate our audience to know where they are going and what they get when they are there.
Can you talk about the selection process of the “Competition program” for both the short and feature film sections of the festival?
E.T.: Well, it is as every year a long and exciting process that basically begins already in September after Toronto and Venice. I like to see everything produced in the region, which means that I have to be organized and careful not to miss out on anything, but also not to allow films to pile up towards the end date of the selection process, which is in June every year. Also, I have a strong team working with me and our discussions about every film are very precious and we take them seriously.
In Bosnia, it is surprising, but there are many interesting women directors, producers and writers. I would say that, in that sense, we are a little bit ahead of the rest of the region. Can it be better? Yes, of course!
In the past year and a half, there has been a lot of discussion about women in film, about the 50/50 by 2020 quota that everyone is aiming at, and the Sarajevo Film Festival has been at the forefront of gender equality in film last year with the signature of the pledge among other stands. In that sense, do you look for this quota in your selection process?
E.T.: Yes, we are very committed to the 50/50 quota and we do look for it in the selection process as well. It is not the most determining factor for a film to be selected, but it is a factor that we do consider as important. The problem is actually that there are less films made by women in general, and thus less films made by women submitted to the festival. This year, we have 35% of films directed by women out of the total number of submitted films. This means that the problems should also be solved before the selection of the films, in the financing stages or even before. The selection is the final part of the entire process of filmmaking. We need to engage more in the issue – not only in the selection of the film, but also in its production.
What can you say about this year’s program and selection? What should we look out for?
E.T.: It is an exciting year for regional filmmakers and this is very much reflected in all the selections. The audience will be thrilled and surprised by different takes on usual problems or by characters who refuse to give up. I think that this is a year of strong characters that are present in most of the features as well as shorts.
What is a good film, according to you?
E.T.: The film that poses questions and does not agree with you. The film that you cannot get out of your mind. It is a film which allows you into its world and makes you forget yourself.
What is your opinion of short films?
E.T.: I love short films. I’m also a filmmaker. I’m a writer. I write feature films, but I direct short films. Last year, I presented a short film that I directed. As a filmmaker, I’m much more attracted to short films than to the feature films. Everybody asks me: “Do you want to direct a feature film?” No… But, I do want to continue directing short films, because it’s really liberating. I think it’s the most liberating film form there is. The only limitation is the duration and there is nothing else. You can really experiment, do a lot of things… And, to be sitting and watching short films for 1h30, to see five short films, to be taken to five different worlds is a rollercoaster… So, for me, the most exciting film form is the short form.
What is your opinion on the situation of women in film today? How is it in Bosnia? And where do you position yourself in this conversation?
E.T.: Since we are talking about the issue, it means it is getting better. I guess that half of the solution lies in clearly presenting the problem itself. In Bosnia, it is surprising, but there are many interesting women directors, producers and writers. I would say that, in that sense, we are a little bit ahead of the rest of the region. Can it be better? Yes, of course!
Who is your favorite female filmmaker? And what is your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
E.T.: I am not a fan of top five questions, but one of my favorite films is The Piano by Jane Campion.
What was the best advice you were given and what would you say to a young woman who would like to work in the film industry?
E.T.: Just do it! I think that women have more stamina and strength needed to make a film than a man, especially in our region. So, yes, just do it!
What lies in store for the Sarajevo Film Festival?
E.T.: We plan to stick to developing the cinema of the region. It is our signature and our profile.
Can you talk about your other activities?
E.T.: I teach. I’m a full-time professor at the Academy of Performing Arts where I teach scriptwriting and other courses related to scriptwriting specifically tailored for MA students. I teach to students of directing, writing and production. I lead the Association of Filmmakers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is the only institution working on the promotion of Bosnian Cinema throughout the year with different sections. We run a website, we issue a catalogue of Bosnian Film every year, plus a location guide for Bosnian Cinema, we organize the annual Ivica Matić Award as well as the Bosnian Film section at the Sarajevo Film Festival. And, I’m a script consultant and a writer.
What are your next projects?
E.T.: I am working on several feature film screenplays. One of the is presented at the 2019 CineLink and it is called The Happiest Man in the World or Lessons in Love – with Teona Mitevska. In parallel, I have been working on the screenplay of Croatian filmmaker Vanja Juranić’s new film and also on a new screenplay I have just completed recently. I am also working on my second experimental short film. I have many projects cooking at the same time – always!
This interview was conducted at the 2019 Sarajevo Film Festival.